Running a marathon through the Holy Land


Katy Wardle is part of the Cr8 team in Macclesfield. To mark her 35th birthday, she decided to run the Palestine Marathon, an experience she describes as "life-changing". Here's her story:

I’d heard of the Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, but when I signed up in November I don’t think I had properly grasped just what it would be like. Twenty weeks of training through the coldest months was difficult, but I loved understanding what my body could do if I put in the time and the right fuel.

The occupied West Bank in Israel/Palestine is a beautiful, hospitable, friendly, welcoming place. We spent 10 days in total in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We visited many places, wandering around getting lost and seeing the parallels between today and Jesus’ time.

Sitting quietly in the Garden Tomb, the Kotel (Western Wall) Hebron, and Jericho were highlights. It’s a friendly and vibrant place with so many things to see – it’s an assault on the senses. And most people will help you with whatever you might need. It was brilliant.

The Palestine Marathon took me 3h 56 minutes to complete, having set off at 6 am. We ran in the beautiful Palestinian sunshine. I got slightly lost in Aida refugee camp, knocked over a kid who ran into me playing football, almost got knocked over by a police ambulance, enjoyed groups of teenagers dancing and laughing in the carnival atmosphere, little kids running alongside me wondering what on earth we were doing but being inspired, and eating dates as energy snacks.

I ran with Palestinians from Right to Movement based in Ramallah who just loved to run and made me laugh the whole time. I smiled at everyone – all the young volunteers from schools and university who were making it happen. A fantastic atmosphere – I cannot describe how it felt. We climbed 2000ft in total through the hills of Bethlehem. Along the separation wall, through two refugee camps, and turned back at the checkpoint to finish in Manger Square. 7000 people took part in all the different distances on the day. It was a truly emotional and wonderful experience.

A day later a 17-year-old young adult was shot in the Dheisiesh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem; I had run through this camp during my Marathon. He was shot wearing his hi-vis vest as he was a volunteer first aider. I learnt that he had volunteered alongside other young adults at the Marathon and was handing out water. He would have offered me water on the day and there’s a good chance I had taken it. The rollercoaster of emotions of visiting the West Bank and experiencing this is indescribable.

I managed to raise £750 for The Tent of Nations farm, run by the Nassar family, based in Area C section of the West Bank just outside Bethlehem. It’s surrounded by five huge settlements (think of big towns with circa 50,000 residents!). They are constantly harassed to give up their land; but instead they farm, pass on their wisdom and welcome any strangers that come their way. They ‘refuse to be enemies’ and welcome all. They run summer camps for local kids and take in volunteers during harvest season. Daoud told us stories, made us tea and filled our hands with great clumps of herbs as we left.

There are so many more stories from the trip – so many highs and lows (getting harassed at airport security on the way out of Israel because they found our Marathon medals was pretty horrific – luckily, I was stopped with a few other runners (including the Marathon winner) who helped to calm my nerves as they wandered off with our passports for 40 minutes!) I would encourage anyone to visit the area and especially to take part in the Freedom of Movement Marathon (they also do a half, 10k and 5k). It’s life-changing!